It will be over in four seconds. Four seconds of terror or months of degradation…with the same outcome. Gina Stewart had been homeless many times, by choice, and always with an exit strategy. As a teenager the freedom was intoxicating and edgy, like fucking your crush. As an adult it would be like turning tricks until your heart stopped beating one rainy day on a filthy sidewalk.
The fog was heavy in places and as sections of the bridge became exposed her heart rate jumped. Like a sentry in an ancient army, she caught glimpses of a massive force emerging along a ridge. Fate was a term she never really understood until she looked at that bridge. Was today the day?
She summoned David’s eyes from that first date. A subtle teal, they drew her in and she saw the humanity, injured and hidden. He had sensed this early on, this power over her, and he would let her to stare into them as an act of appeasement for his many transgressions. Why him? So many guys wanted her. Decent guys who would open her car door, want her to meet the family, and eventually propose. For years she only wanted guys that would leave, wanted to be abandoned because the venom was the vaccine. How did she end up with a guy that wouldn’t let her leave?
As she sat on the cold, damp bench Gina could not lock in those eyes from that first night, could not purge the sight of his grotesque, bulging eye socket. As his body twisted on the rope that sunny morning, suspended from the balcony above hers, she had made eye contact one last time. The swaying venetians increased her disorientation, but that lifeless eye triggered her gag reflex and she had stumbled towards the bathroom, vomit and hot coffee ruining the carpet. Was today the day?
The stately bridge was a long walk from the little park that had become a haven of sorts. It was her third visit and maybe her last, but as she opened her tired, blurry eyes, she saw the dog. An obvious rescue with his yellow bandana and gleeful parents, the husky cross stopped and looked right at her, at the perfect moment. Before she could reconsider, Gina rose up and walked out of the park, happy for a dog that had received a second chance.
Over the next couple of days Gina wrestled with the idea of calling Steve again, but knew she couldn’t. That wretched day was almost as devastating for him, was his first glimpse into the hell she’d endured for four long years. The way he looked at her, like she was unclean, undeserving of him. Undeserving? She knew how much he’d bragged about her. An accountant wouldn’t be able to cover her future medical bills anyway, so she’d allow him to return to a boring, normal life. He was a port in a storm, but the storm found her. Against her will she recalled that first conversation on the hotline as a breathless volunteer. I’m an orphan too, David! …yeah, I could meet you for coffee sometime…
Gina summoned the images of the dog in the park and marvelled again at how that had lifted her spirits so dramatically. That could not be a false positive, but the metallic taste in her mouth was troubling. Did it mean she would make a fourth and final trip to the park? Would there be no dog to save her? That too familiar feeling of nauseous dread kicked in and she focused on her breathing.
She looked at the Peace Corp documents on her kitchen table and tried to revisit the sincere excitement from a few days ago. A chance to leave her miseries behind for a couple of years, work with good people, happy people. The medical examination was supposed to be a formality, but a second exam was ordered. The doctor was so solemn and professional, but his face, though old and gentle, would represent cruelty in her mind. But I feel fine.
Many patients do Gina, but with this form of Leukemia, the symptoms often stay hidden for some time.
Philadelphia Chromosome…bone marrow transplant…a hundred grand? Another cold sweat broke out and she splashed her face vigorously in the tiny kitchen, slapping herself in the process. Once an acceptable level of calm returned, she noticed her shirt was now soaked and trudged into the living room to grab a dry one from her suitcase. Wow, I could use some weed right… a knock on the door startled her, and she stumbled through the process of putting her shirt on.
Her landlord was a nice, socially awkward man with a constant three-day beard and a slight limp. Gina was almost two months late on her rent and had been ducking Roger for the past three weeks, playing no music and quietly out waiting him when he knocked. This time she decided to face him, to stop cowering. When she expectantly opened the door, Gina was surprised to find that it had not been Roger wanting his overdue rent. It was a man offering a second chance.